DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (WAFB) - For most of us, a home-cooked meal at the end of a long day is one of life’s great pleasures. It is one Sue and Donnie Hallmark of Denham Springs do not always enjoy.
“There would be plenty nights we would probably eat a bag of popcorn or a can of soup just to hold us over,” said Sue.
She and Donnie bow their heads over a small table in a cramped kitchen and offer a blessing over the night’s meal - smoked chicken, corn, and scalloped potatoes prepared by a new friend.
Donnie is in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Sue suffers from a debilitating back injury that makes it hard to stand.
“When I finish cooking, I’m out of it for the rest of the day and part of the next,” Sue added.
Earlier in the afternoon, in a small kitchen 30 minutes away, Angie Grunewald rubbed mustard and spices into a pan full of chicken breasts.
“I haven’t decided on the vegetable yet but we’re definitely going to have a roll with it,” said Grunewald, her hands dripping mustard.
For the past nine weeks, Grunewald has done the cooking for the Hallmarks. She gives the chicken still left to season a look.
“I think around 50 pounds,” she said.
She has also cooked for a whole lot of others in Livingston Parish. It all started back in February when most of the state froze solid.
“I started reading on Facebook that everybody was out of power and they were cold. So, I have a gas stove and a gas fireplace, so I figured the least I could do was cook a hot meal for the people that were cold,” Grunewald explained.
Grunewald dove into her cupboard and fed 17 people that day. She fed 30 the next. People liked her food so much, they started bringing her food to cook. Angie figured she would simply cook until the food ran out. That was nine weeks ago.
According to The Feeding America Network, Louisiana ranks third highest in the nation when it comes to food insecurity. More than 10 percent of people in Livingston Parish are not sure where their next meal is coming from.
Two-and-a-half months after serving her first meal, Grunewald feeds 60 or more people every weeknight.
“I knew there were more people in need but I didn’t realize how many until I started doing this,” she said.
Most of Grunewald’s meals go to the elderly on fixed incomes or young parents struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. She said near the end of the month, her numbers always rise as money gets tight.
Around 5 p.m. every weekday afternoon, Grunewald logs into Facebook and posts her menu. People comment their orders back at her. She boxes up the meals and people pick them up in her kitchen.
Since the freeze, people have continued to donate food, spices, and cash to keep Angie’s Kitchen going. And local businesses have pitched in with to-go boxes, bags, and other supplies.
“I’ve seen a lot of kindness. People are realizing there are still good people in the world,” she said.
The cynical among us might wonder if Grunewald worries about someone taking advantage of her kindness. She does not waste time thinking about that.
“Here, there’s no judgment. I don’t care who you voted for. I don’t care the color of your skin. Everybody’s human,” she said.
Back in the Hallmarks’ kitchen, Sue watches as Donnie sops up the last of the sauce from his scalloped potatoes.
“This meal blesses us tremendously,” she said.
We could all use a second helping of that.
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